Teacher recruitment is always in the headlines, especially for STEM subjects. Teachers of chemistry, physics and maths are hard to come by. Graduates in those fields are highly sought after in the general graduate jobs market and so perhaps the prospect of sullen teenagers, marking and Ofsted makes teaching a less than hot prospect.
Things have been taking a turn for the better lately, recruitment isn’t as much of an issue as it has been however retention definitely is. It is no good training all these new teachers at great expense if they don’t go on to teach, or if they take their expertise to international schools in exotic climates. Retention of teachers is a much harder job to tackle, the reasons why new teachers (or even old ones) leave the profession are wide ranging and complex. Some reasons may be outside of the control of individual schools, pressures imposed by government such as curriculum reform for example. Others may well be inside the control of a school, perhaps a negative working climate, leadership teams with bullying management styles or unruly pupils. Even if a school wanted to change this I’m not sure when teachers leave they give the true reasons to their schools for fear of being seen as weak, and also teachers may incorrectly have the impression that it is the same everywhere.
One possible way to help retain teachers could be to open up more opportunities for secondments. These could offer a mid-career refresher or enable a teacher to try a new direction without committing to it for the long term.
What are secondments?
Secondments are temporary posts, usually in durations fitting with school terms so from a term to several years. In a secondment the institution seconding the teacher pays their salary to the school, thus preserving their terms and conditions (including pension rights, entitlement to maternity pay etc).
Secondments used to be relatively common when is started teaching. A list used to go around every few months with opportunities on it. I rarely see them nowadays and now being on my second secondment of my career I am a real advocate for their revival.
In 2011 I applied for a secondment at the Royal Society of Chemistry which placed me as a school teacher fellow in my local university (Manchester). I had been teaching for 5 years and was already a Head of Chemistry and a Fast Track Teacher but was becoming disillusioned with the management route. I spent the academic year 2011-12 teaching chemistry at Manchester, writing an ebook and contributing to consultations about teaching and learning. Following this I returned to secondary teaching, in a different school. In 2015 I then proposed my own secondment back to Manchester on a part-time basis, with Manchester paying 3/5 of my salary to school in return for 3/5 of my teaching week. I now teach 3 days a week in Manchester and 2 days a week in school. I carry out research into chemistry education and present at conferences and meetings. For more on my work at Manchester see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/12141124/Bridging-the-chasm-between-classroom-and-lecture-room.html
So where could a teacher be seconded to?
Here are just a few ideas of places where I think teachers would be seconded to…
- Other schools – to cover maternity leave for a Head of Dept for example. Allows the seconded teacher to gain useful experience and decide if this kind of management role is right for them without them being completely committed should it turn out to be the wrong choice.
- Professional subject associations like the IoP and RSC. Some of this does happen already but it is limited. Subject associations spend a lot of time responding to consultations and working with teachers, seconded teachers could be huge assets with up to date professional knowledge.
- Educational publishers – who is best to understand the publishing needs of teachers from textbooks to online resources? Actual practising teachers.
- Exam boards – perhaps the assessment system would work more effectively if it didn’t rely as much on a cottage industry of teachers working part time on top of their already full time teaching posts?
- Government – ok this may be a little too ambitious but surely the DfE, OfQual etc would benefit from the input of teachers with very recent experience of schools.
Benefits of secondment for teachers
- A mid career refresher, allowing teachers to reflect on their career aims.
- A chance for teachers to gain experience in another setting, diversifying their skills and knowledge.
- An opportunity for teachers to try a new role without committing to it long term.
- Increased diversity in career pathways for teachers beyond the current academic leadership/pastoral leadership models.
Benefits of secondment for their host institutions
- New ideas from someone with a different range of experience to their current staff
- A relatively short term, low risk and potentially cheap way to fill a temporary shortage or resource a new project
- A unique skill set, up to date experience of teaching, teacher needs and challenges
I’d love to hear from anyone who has had a secondment and hear about the impact it has had on both sides of the arrangement. Comments very welcome.